Coming Home. This was the theme for the entire Harbaugh to Michigan campaign as the prodigal son returned from his years away. Of course for Harbaugh to walk through the door many others had to walk out, something most Wolverines fans praised as Brady Hoke and Nussmeier were kicked off campus. Yet many worried that the arrival of D.J. Durkin would spell the end of Greg Mattison with the Michigan Wolverines, I know I did.
Greg Mattison was the best coach of the Brady Hoke by far, as his defense was a constant source of above-average performance for the below-average Wolverines. Despite not having a gamebreaking star on defense for four years, Mattison consistently ran a solid defense fueled by key contributions from underrated players such as Jake Ryan, Jordan Kovacs or Blake Countess. So when the time came for Harbaugh to choose his replacement I worried Michigan would lose that defense edge that the ex-Baltimore Ravens coordinator always brought to the field. Fortunately, for both myself and Michigan, Greg Mattison was brought back to coach the defensive line, the same role he had when he started at Michigan in 1992. For Greg Mattison, he was coming home.
A lot has been discussed about D.J. Durkin's history of using both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes, including here at Maize N' Brew (we discuss lineman here and linebackers here) but at the end of the day the defensive line is still about big men pushing other big men to try to get to the little man with the football. Fortunately for Michigan, this is Greg Mattison's specialty. Since 1977 Greg Mattison has coached the defensive line at every level from Cornell to the Baltimore Ravens. While at Texas A&M his "Wrecking Crew" was one of the best in the nation, while his first stint at Michigan yielded the best rush defense in the Big Ten for four straight seasons. His defense at Florida dismantled Ohio State for a National Title while the Baltimore Ravens bruised and battered the NFL under his guide. Don't think Mattison can coach defensive line? Just ask Ben Roethlisberger.
With a resume like that its hard to believe Mattison didn't bolt for the first NFL program to come calling, but he also has a connection to the team and the coaches. Mattison is a Harbaugh veteran, having first worked for Jack Harbaugh at Western Michigan before working with John Harbaugh in Baltimore. I suppose it's only fitting now that Mattison complete the Harbaugh triple crown by working with Jim Harbaugh (I think I've reached my "Harbaugh" quota now). As for D.J. Durkin the two worked together at Notre Dame when Durkin was just a young graduate assistant on his way to becoming a coordinator. Now the two are back together and looking to cause more havoc up front.
Which of course is where the defensive line comes in. Mattison will now have all his time and energy to focus on a defensive line he, and to a degree Brady Hoke, have built over the last four years. These are the athletes that Mattison knows better that anyone and his familiarity will pay huge dividends this season and the next. With no big-name star or high profile recruit walking through the tunnel any time soon, Michigan will need to maximize what it has on the line to be successful. Fortunately, Greg Mattison has a history of maximizing potential (Kovacs, Ryan, R. Glasgow) and offers the perfect combination of familiarity and talent to make it all come together.